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When Does Alcohol Abuse Become Addiction?

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Most of us enjoy an alcoholic beverage now and then without any concern about addiction. But alcohol addiction is a real – and destructive – disease. How can you tell when your alcohol consumption habits border on “alcohol abuse?” And when does it become a full-blown addiction?

Clarifying Terms: Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

First, let’s clarify some of the terms we’ll be using throughout this article. The consumption of alcohol is normal and accepted and is not generally regarded as a problem.

However, when a person engages in alcohol consumption behaviors that are problematic, such as binge drinking, it’s considered alcohol abuse. A person may engage in alcohol abuse without having an addiction to alcohol.

Over time, heavy and/or repetitive drinking can lead a person to develop alcohol tolerance. Tolerance means the effects of a substance will grow weaker, often requiring the substance user to consume higher quantities to receive the same effects.

Oftentimes, alcohol tolerance can lead to alcohol dependence, which means your body has become practically dependent on alcohol to function normally; at this stage, you’ll feel intense physical cravings for alcohol and will experience headaches and other negative symptoms if you don’t consume it.

Alcohol dependence is sometimes called an alcohol addiction. It’s also referred to as alcoholism.

In a clinical environment, you may be diagnosed with an “alcohol use disorder” (AUD), a substance use disorder related to alcohol. Both alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence may qualify you to be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.

In other words, not all people who abuse alcohol have an alcohol addiction – but most people with alcohol addiction abuse alcohol in some way. Additionally, just because you’re not addicted to alcohol doesn’t mean you don’t have a substance use disorder – but if you do have an alcohol addiction, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol abuse can refer to almost any problematic behavior associated with alcohol. You may occasionally drink too much, finding it hard to control your intake when you go out to drink with friends. You may drink on a daily basis, or drink as a way to cope with grief or stress. You may even drink to such an extent that it causes rifts in your social relationships.

These problematic drinking behaviors are all serious, and they require your attention if you’re going to live a happy, healthy life. However, they aren’t necessarily a sign of alcohol dependence/addiction.

Instead, these are some of the most important signs of alcohol addiction to look for:

  • Physical tolerance for alcohol. One of the clearest signs of alcohol dependence is a physical tolerance for alcohol. When you have a drink, you barely feel the effects. You have to drink more and more to feel the effects of the alcohol – and having a few drinks simply gets you to “normal.” You may also have a total lack of hangover symptoms, even when drinking heavily.
  • Cravings for alcohol. You’ll also experience intense physical cravings for alcohol, especially when you haven’t had it for a while. You’ll feel a biological need for alcohol in the same way you might feel hungry or thirsty when healthy.
  • Avoiding situations where no alcohol is present. You might also deliberately avoid situations where no alcohol will be present. For example, you might skip your nephew’s birthday party so you can go home and drink or head to a bar. Your entire life will revolve around alcohol, so if it’s not available somewhere, you’ll try to avoid going.
  • Drinking alcohol in inappropriate situations. There are times where drinking alcohol is inappropriate, and most of us have no trouble resisting the urge to drink during these situations. But if you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, you may drink in these situations anyway. For example, you might sneak a drink into your workplace or drink when you first wake up in the morning.
  • Hiding or lying about your alcohol habits. Do you find yourself sneaking out at night to drink alcohol? Or do you lie to your spouse about how much you really drink? These could be a sign that you have a serious alcohol use problem.
  • Headaches and other symptoms when going without alcohol. When you go a couple of days, or several hours without alcohol, how do you feel? Healthy people feel the effects of alcohol subside, then feel normal. But with an alcohol addiction, going too long without a drink can leave you with headaches, nausea, vomiting, or other physical symptoms.
  • Failed attempts to quit. Have you tried to quit drinking or cut back on your drinking habit in the past? If so, how did it go? If you genuinely tried to quit but found yourself unable to resist the allure of alcohol, it’s a sign that your alcohol addiction runs deep.
  • Changes in relationships. Alcohol addiction almost always has a negative impact on your relationships. Have you found it harder to communicate with loved ones? Or have your relationships become strained since you started drinking more heavily? What do your friends and family members think about your habit?

What Should You Do If You Have an Alcohol Addiction?

If you notice that you exhibit many of the signs listed above, you may have an alcohol addiction. It’s possible to try and curtail your drinking habit on your own, but in severe cases, this can be dangerous; the symptoms of withdrawal can be so intense that they become life-threatening, since alcohol affects the central nervous system so closely.

Instead, it’s better to seek treatment from a medical professional. Depending on your personal history with alcohol, the current severity of your alcohol addiction, and other factors, you may be recommended to go through a medical detox, or undergo a partial hospitalization program (PHP).

If you’re not sure what the best approach is, contact Just Believe Recovery Center today – we’ll connect you to the professionals who can help, and recommend the best treatment program to maximize your chances of a full recovery.

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